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King Albert

Biography Dr. Bradford Washburn

Born on June 7, 1910, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Dr. Bradford Washburn established himself as an explorer, mountaineer, photographer, lecturer and author already in his early twenties. At the age of sixteen he had started climbing. Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa were among his first mountains - all in 1926. Three years later he had made enough difficult climbs in the Alps to be elected to the French Alpine Club's Groupe de Haute Montagne - of which he is now an honorary member. At sixteen he had also published his first guide book on the White Mountains in the Eastern United States. At the same age he discovered a fascination for photography, especially of mountains, which finally led to his expertise in aerial photography and his passion of mapping the world's greatest mountains. He graduated from Harvard University in 1933 and was an instructor at Harvard's Institute of Geographical Exploration from 1935 until 1942. Today he holds 9 honorary doctorates from various American Universities.

At the age of 29, Bradford Washburn was appointed Director of Boston's Museum of Science which he built and directed during 41 years until 1980. In 1985 he was elected Honorary Director for life. Although his life's work has been focussed on building the Boston Museum of Science into one of the nation's leading museums, he is also a noted photo-grapher, cartographer and leading expert on Alaskan mountains and glaciers. He has led numerous Alaskan exploratory expeditions, has climbed many Alaskan peaks, including Mt. McKinley, and has published a large-scale map of Mt. McKinley, the result of 15 years' work in Alaska, Boston and Switzerland. In 1975 he completed a map of the Heart of the Grand Canyon, and in 1977 the first detailed map on Alaska's huge Muldrow Glacier. In the spring of 1981 he also published a highly detailed map of the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon. Between 1978 and 1988 he focussed his attention on a new and large-scale map of the New Hampshire's Presidential Range with Mount Washington as its highest point. There, as a youngster, his interest in exploration, photography and geology found its roots.

During 1981 until 1984 Dr. and Mrs. Washburn made 3 trips to Nepal and China to negotiate the first permission ever granted by these two governments to make ultra-high-altitude photo-mapping flights in a Learjet over 380 square miles of Nepal and Tibet, centred over Mt. Everest. These flights were successfully completed in 1984 and the map, prepared by Swissair Photo and Surveys Ltd and the Swiss Federal Institute of Topography, was first published by the National Geographic Society in 1988. A second edition was published in 1991 by the Boston Museum of Science and the Swiss Foundation for Alpine Research, this time involving an entirely new back-side showing all the routes by which Mt. Everest has been climbed so far.

In 1992 Dr. Washburn worked in Nepal with a young expert of its Survey Department and a team of excellent American mountaineers and succeeded in making the first laser measurement to the top of Mt. Everest. It was one of his most exciting moments of his life «when he looked through the telescope at Namche Bazar and saw the brilliant ruby laser reflection dancing on the tip-top of Mount Everest !» Today he is working with a brilliant team of geophysicists on the plate tectonics of the Everest region and the rate at which the massif still continues to rise – possibly by as much as 4 to 5 centimetres per year.

Dr. Washburn is a member and honorary member of numerous mountaineering and camera clubs, including The Alpine Club, The American Alpine Club and The Explorers Club, and has received many distinctions and awards, far too numerous to list in this short bibliographical sketch. But his most treasured award, which he shares with his wife, Barbara, was the Centennial Award of the National Geographic Society. He now receives the King Albert Medal of Merit in recognition of «his guiding spirit in the ambitious and successful enterprise of making a new large-scale map of the roof of the world from 1982 to 1991» .

Bradford Washburn died in 2007.